Graphic footage depicts police officers in Louisiana shooting Sterling multiple times.
by Matt Ferner
A cell phone video that emerged Wednesday, July 6, shows that Alton Sterling apparently was not holding a gun when police officers fatally shot him in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Tuesday.
The Daily Beast first published the disturbing video, which it obtained from Abdullah Muflahi, the owner of the convenience store where the shooting took place. Muflahi told the news organization that Sterling was not causing trouble and that he had been a “welcome presence at the store for years.”
Two white police officers shot Sterling, a 37-year-old Black man, as he sold CDs in the convenience store’s parking lot early Tuesday morning. Authorities were responding to a complaint about an armed man threatening people outside the store.
Eyewitness video of Sterling’s death began circulating on social media on Tuesday. It showed Sterling on the ground, pinned underneath two officers. At one point, one of the police officers shouted, “He’s got a gun!” One of the officers is then seen holding a gun at Sterling’s chest at nearly point-blank range. Seconds later, Sterling is shot multiple times.
Paramedics pronounced Sterling dead when they arrived on the scene.
Police have claimed that Sterling was armed, but the new video does not show Sterling holding a weapon or behaving in a threatening manner.
The graphic footage, which was filmed close to the incident, appears to show two officers pinning Sterling to the ground just before several rounds are fired at him. Moments later, an officer shouts and at least three more shots are heard. As one officer sits on the ground, a second officer is seen pulling an object from Sterling’s right pocket. Sterling, still alive and with a visible wound to his chest, moves his left arm toward his head and face.
Sterling’s death has sparked outrage across the nation, as well as calls for an independent investigation into the slaying. The NAACP has called for the mayor and chief of police to resign over the killing, and the U.S. Department of Justice has already opened an investigation into the incident.
The Baton Rouge Police Department has provided scant details on what happened between the officers and Sterling. At a press conference Wednesday, Baton Rouge Chief of Police Carl Dabadie Jr. called Sterling’s death a “horrible tragedy,” but said there was still a lot not understood about the incident.
The department placed the two officers involved in the shooting on administrative leave on Tuesday, and later identified them as Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II.
District Attorney Hillar C. Moore III said the “officers feel they were completely justified” in the shooting.
Sterling was the 558th person to be killed by police in the U.S. this year, according to The Guardian’s database, The Counted.
Matt Ferner, national reporter for The Huffington Post, writes about marijuana, cops, prosecutors and politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story first appeared on The Huffington Post.
Witness: ‘It was a nightmare’
Abdullah Muflahi sat on a beer cooler inside the Triple S Food Mart and described what it was like to watch police kill his friend.
“It was a nightmare. It was a nightmare,” Muflahi, the owner of this small convenience store told The Daily Beast over and over. “I kept expecting to wake up.”
Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old Black man, was standing in the parking lot selling CDs as he had for years when two white cops arrived on Tuesday night. By Wednesday morning he was dead and protesters were in the city’s streets. Calls erupted from Congress and the NAACP for an independent investigation into the shooting, which the Justice Department announced within hours.
Officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake were reportedly responding to a 911 call about a man threatening someone with a gun before they arrived, but Muflahi said no one was waving a gun, certainly not Sterling.
“He didn’t even tell me about anything; he usually tells me,” Muflahi said. “He’s not that type of person. It would have been a very big problem to pull his gun out.”
A Baton Rouge police dispatcher told officers that a 911 caller said a man matching the description of Alton Sterling at the store’s location “pulled a gun” on him, according to WAFB-TV. (Police have not released the original 911 call.)
“2100 North Foster, cross Fairfield. Selling CDs on the corner. Gun in his pocket. He pulled a gun on a complainant and told him he couldn’t be around there.”
Muflahi walked out the front door when he saw the officers talking to Sterling and said there was no “altercation,” as police claimed, until the cops tasered and tackled Sterling. That’s when Muflahi took out his phone and started recording.
The Daily Beast is publishing this video in its entirety – despite its graphic nature – because it shows what happened before, during and after the killing of Sterling. A previous video only showed him being tackled and the first two gunshots.
“I swear to God if you fucking move!” one of the officers yelled, pointing his gun at Sterling’s chest. “He’s got a gun! Gun!”
Muflahi’s video does not appear to support the officer’s claim that Sterling’s gun represented an active threat: It appears to have been in a pocket and never reached his hand. Instead, the video shows Sterling pinned down, shot twice in the chest, and then shot four more times.
After mortally wounding him, one of the officers removes an object from Sterling’s right pants pocket. (Police during a Wednesday press conference refused to comment on whether Sterling had a gun.)
“Fuck!” one cop yells into his radio. “10-4, 10-4 … shots fired! Shots fired!”
Sterling was still alive, the video capturing his left hand moving over a dark pool of blood filling the center of his red T-shirt. When paramedics arrived minutes later, Sterling was dead.
Muflahi said he and two eyewitnesses who were also recording the incident from their vehicle were taken by police to headquarters to be interviewed.
Police asked Muflahi for the surveillance footage from his store but he refused to turn it over without a warrant, he said.
“I told them I would like to be in the store when [they took it],” Muflahi said. “They told me they didn’t want me to see the footage.”
“I never received a warrant,” but the video was taken anyway, Muflahi said.
What police didn’t know is Muflahi and Arthur Reed, a Black Lives Matter activist sitting in a nearby car, also recorded the incident on their cellphones.
Thanks to Reed’s video, protesters hit the streets almost immediately. By the Wednesday morning, nearly 100 people came to the Triple S Food Mart to debate the best way to respond to Alton’s death. Some suggested an economic boycott of Baton Rouge businesses, while others wanted to march on the state Capitol to protest. People stood on the side of the road and waved “Black Lives Matter” signs amid a nonstop stream of car horns.
At the same time the Baton Rouge Police Department said it placed officers Salamoni and Lake on paid administrative leave while the shooting is investigated. The Justice Department announced a separate investigation after calls for a federal inquiry from members of Congress and the NAACP.
“Based on my review, I thought this would be better handled by an independent agency,” District Attorney Hillar C. Moore III said in a press conference. “The officers feel they were completely justified,” he added.
Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. said he would not heed a call by the local chapter of the NAACP to step down. People also called for the police officers to be arrested and Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden to resign. “Kip hasn’t been out here yet,” said one woman during a protest at the scene the next morning.
“I’m not resigning. I’m not retiring,” Dabadie said.
Citizens and activists won’t take no for an answer, though.
“We have to vote,” a young man named Earl Seiger said. “We have to select the people who make the decisions for our community.” Sterling’s pastor, Carl Williams, said this is just the beginning.
“I will go to my grave trying to make something happen,” he said. “The ground has been polluted with innocent blood.”
Zack Kopplin, an investigative journalist and activist who writes about science education issues, can be reached at @ZackKopplin. Justin Miller, a senior editor with the Daily Beast, who was previously home page editor of New York Magazine, an associate editor at The Atlantic, a politics reporter in Ohio and an editor at RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at @justinjm1. This story first appeared on the Daily Beast.
Editor’s note: Sign the petitions to hold the killer cops accountable, at http://act.moveon.org/go/4556?t=3&akid=166497.1284558.FUE6pw and https://www.causes.com/campaigns/102348-justice-for-alton-sterling.